In director Shawn Levy’s “This Is Where I Leave You,” Corey Stoll stars as the oldest of four adult children (the others are played by Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Adam Driver) sitting Shiva for a week following the sudden death of their father and finding old and new reasons to be at each others’ throats. The trick, according to Stoll? Making all that bickering endearing.
You have been seriously busy since “House of Cards,” haven’t you?
There’s definitely times when it’s hectic and you’re jumping from one [project] to the other and you’re having a lot more calls about scheduling than you’d like to, but I’ve also found some gaps and I’ve taken some time. I think after you spend the vast majority of your career fighting just to be employed, to be in the incredibly lucky position to have to choose between projects and the chance to choose to take time off — you can definitely feel a sense that you just have to keep working and ride this wave, but I have taken strategically a few little gaps off to just recharge and find my way back to neutral a little bit.
The family members in “This Is Where I Leave You” are dealing with a lot of issues that can make them less than cheerful. What’s the challenge as an actor of making them not too terrible to hang out with?
There were some challenges, particularly with my character. There was a big back story element to my character [in the novel] that didn’t work in the storytelling that sort of changed the motivation for my character’s attitude toward his siblings. So that was a challenge to motivate the rigidity and resentment that my character really holds onto throughout the film. So it’s a number of those things just have to be internal. There have to be secrets that I have and then hopefully the audience can feel that my being such a joy-kill is for good reason and not just because I’m an a–hole.
And despite this being about a family sitting Shiva, you’re actually the only Jewish member of the main family cast, right?
(laughs) Yeah. Adam Driver, everyone assumes he’s Jewish. At least I did. But yeah, I come from a similar background to these characters where it’s completely secular. I mean, we definitely did the major holidays and things like that, but I wasn’t bar mitzvahed. We would sit Shiva, but certainly not for seven days. And so I understand this particular conundrum of being Jewish but not religious where you want to have that connection culturally, but maybe you don’t feel as engaged religiously and you’re finding out a balance there.
So you missed out on all that sweet Bar Mitzvah money?
(laughs) I did, but I didn’t have to go to school for it. I guess I’m not a man, yet. Maybe today I’ll become a man.
You’re also just starting work on “Ant-Man.” Are you ready to join the Marvel machine?
I mean, when you put it like that … (laughs) I mean yes, obviously it’s not like working on an indie film with a director with final cut, but all of my interactions with [director] Peyton [Reed] and with everybody over there have been so creatively minded. Everybody seems so on board with making these stories as emotionally rich and character-based as possible in the background of this spectacle that it feels like a good home for actors, actually.